State v. Tarbox

Decision Date05 October 2007
Docket NumberNo. 05-1281.,05-1281.
Citation739 N.W.2d 850
PartiesSTATE of Iowa, Appellant v. Christopher Jerome TARBOX, Appellee.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Cristen Douglass, Assistant Attorney General, J. Patrick White, County Attorney, and Meredith Rich-Chappell, Assistant County Attorney, for appellant.

Steven E. Ballard and Patrick J. Ford of Leff Law Firm, L.L.P., Iowa City, for appellee.

WIGGINS, Justice.

In his petition for further review Christopher Jerome Tarbox asks this court to reverse the court of appeals decision finding the district court erred when it dismissed the trial information charging him with leaving the scene of an accident in violation of Iowa Code section 321.261 (2003). Tarbox claims because he was involved in a single-vehicle accident, and he was the only person who suffered a personal injury, his conduct did not violate section 321.261. Accepting the facts alleged by the State in the trial information and minutes as true, we agree with Tarbox that his conduct of leaving the scene of the single-vehicle accident did not violate section 321.261. Accordingly, we vacate the decision of the court of appeals and affirm the decision of the district court.

I. Prior Proceedings.

The State charged Tarbox with leaving the scene of a personal injury accident in violation of Iowa Code section 321.261. Tarbox filed a motion to dismiss the trial information claiming first, the trial information did not establish he was the driver of the vehicle at the time of the accident, and second, the driver of the vehicle had no duty to perform the duties required by section 321.261. The State filed a notice of additional testimony addressing Tarbox's first claim. The State also filed a resistance responding to both issues raised by Tarbox.

The district court granted Tarbox's motion to dismiss finding none of the driver's statutory duties required by section 321.261 apply when there is a single-vehicle accident resulting in an injury to the driver. The State appealed the decision of the district court claiming it erred in dismissing the trial information. We transferred the case to our court of appeals. The court of appeals reversed and remanded the case to the district court for trial. Tarbox then petitioned our court for further review, which we granted.

II. Issue.

In this appeal we must decide whether the district court erred when it dismissed the trial information.

III. Standard of Review.

This court reviews a district court's order to dismiss a trial information for correction of errors at law. State v. Petersen, 678 N.W.2d 611, 613 (Iowa 2004). In reviewing the dismissal of the trial information, we accept the facts alleged by the State in the information and attached minutes as true. State v. Gonzalez, 718 N.W.2d 304, 307 (Iowa 2006). We will reverse the district court's dismissal if the facts alleged by the State "charge a crime as a matter of law." Id. Additionally, we review questions of statutory interpretation for correction of errors at law. Id.

IV. Facts.

According to the trial information we accept the following facts as true. On December 17, 2004, three witnesses observed a beige Mitsubishi Galant traveling north on Governor Street, a one-way street in Iowa City. As the vehicle approached the intersection of Governor Street and Iowa Avenue, the driver lost control and hit a cement wall. The vehicle came to a complete stop. The cement wall was not located on private property, and other than damage to the Galant, no other property damage occurred.

After the Galant stopped, the three witnesses saw the only occupant of the vehicle, a white male approximately six feet tall with brown hair, exit the Galant from the driver's side. The male fled the area and left the vehicle where it had come to rest at the scene. The witnesses observed the male had injuries to his face. The witnesses then contacted the Iowa City police.

Iowa City police officers Bill Welch and Terry Tack arrived on the scene, finding the Galant damaged from its collision with the cement wall. The officers found the vehicle's airbags deployed. The officers completed an accident report and noted the vehicle's path of travel based on their conversations with the witnesses. During their investigation the officers found a cellular phone close to the intersection. The officers took the cellular phone as evidence. They determined the phone belonged to Tarbox. After running the license plates of the Galant, they established Marie Rolling Tarbox owned the vehicle.

Later that evening Iowa City police officers Zach Diersen and Marcus Mittvalsky went to Tarbox's residence and spoke with him. The officers found Tarbox matched the physical description of the driver of the Galant provided by the eyewitnesses. Tarbox had fresh injuries on his face. Based on Mittvalsky's experience and training as a former firefighter, he believed these injuries were consistent with those caused by airbag deployment.

V. Analysis.

The State charged Tarbox with violating section 321.261. Section 321.261(1) provides:

[t]he driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to . . . any person shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident or as close as possible and if able, shall then return to and remain at the scene of the accident in accordance with section 321.263.

Iowa Code § 321.261(1). Accordingly, "[t]he first duty of the driver of a vehicle involved in an automobile accident under 321.261 is to stop . . . ." State v. Sebben, 185 N.W.2d 771, 774 (Iowa 1971). Second, the driver "has the additional duties specified in [section] 321.263, each of which are separate and distinct under the statute." Id. Section 321.263(1) states:

The driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to or death of a person or damage to a vehicle which is driven or attended by a person shall give the driver's name, address, and the registration number of the vehicle the driver is driving and shall upon request and if available exhibit the driver's driver's license to the person struck, the driver or occupant of, or the person attending the vehicle involved in the accident and shall render to a person injured in the accident reasonable assistance, including the transporting or arranging for the transporting of the person for medical treatment if it is apparent that medical treatment is necessary or if transportation for medical treatment is requested by the injured person.

Iowa Code § 321.263(1). Our resolution of the issue on appeal depends on our construction of these statutes.

The goal of statutory construction is to determine legislative intent. Auen v. Alcoholic Beverages Div., 679 N.W.2d 586, 590 (Iowa 2004). Legislative intent is determined from the words chosen by the legislature, not what it should or might have said. State v. Dohlman, 725 N.W.2d 428, 431 (Iowa 2006). Absent a statutory definition or an established meaning in the law, we give words used by the legislature their ordinary and common meaning by considering, among other things, the context in which they are used. Id. Under the guise of construction, we may not extend, enlarge, or otherwise change the meaning of a statute. Auen, 679 N.W.2d at 590. Finally, this court strictly construes criminal statutes with doubts resolved in the accused's favor. Gonzalez, 718 N.W.2d at 308.

Tarbox concedes for purposes of this appeal that section 321.261 applies to single-vehicle accidents when a person is injured. We have previously held section 321.261 first creates a duty requiring the driver to stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident or as close as possible. Sebben, 185 N.W.2d at 774.

The facts alleged in the trial information state, after Tarbox crashed the vehicle into a cement wall on Governor Street, the vehicle "came to a complete stop." Further, the State does not argue Tarbox failed to meet the statutory duty to stop, rather it argues Tarbox did not remain at the scene to provide identifying information. Consequently, Tarbox did not violate the first duty of section 321.261 requiring a driver to stop at the accident scene.

After stopping the vehicle, the driver must remain at the scene to comply with the additional, separate, and distinct duties required under section 321.263. Id. To comply with the duties under section 321.263(1), the driver has a duty to provide identifying information to the person struck, the driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident, an occupant of the vehicle involved in the accident, or a person attending the vehicle involved in the accident. Iowa Code § 321.263(1). Tarbox's vehicle did not strike any person. The accident did not involve a driver of another vehicle or an occupant of any vehicle.

The State argues in its brief, "a driver has a duty to remain at the scene to provide identifying information to law enforcement or eyewitnesses who can then summon aid." To determine whether the State's argument is correct, we must look to the statutory scheme employed by the legislature in chapter 321. See State v. McSorley, 549 N.W.2d 807, 809 (Iowa 1996) (holding statutes "must be construed in light of their common purpose and intent so as to produce a harmonious body of legislation"). Two sections in chapter 321 incorporate the duties of section 321.263.

The first reference to section 321.263 is in section 321.261(1). Section 321.261 requires the driver to stop and provide identifying information to the persons listed in section 321.263(1) when the accident involves personal injury or death. Iowa Code § 321.261. The second reference to section 321.263 is in section 321.262. Under section 321.262 the driver must stop and provide identifying information to the persons listed in section 321.263(1) if the driver is involved in an accident "resulting only in damage to a vehicle which is driven or attended by any person." Id. § 321.262. Neither section 321.261(1) nor section 321.262 gives any...

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